Severn River Association president Stuart Morris calls it "a surprisingly attractive group of ravine woodlands." Sen. Gerald Winegrad, D-Annapolis, calls it "a drainage ditch."
On Friday, environmentalists will try to convince Winegrad, the State Highway Administration and the Maryland Department of the Environment that a tiny section of non-tidal wetlands behind The Capital newspaper offices on West Street in Annapolis deserves to be saved.
The SHA plans to fill in the wetlands -- which comprise 3/100 of an acre, or about one-tenth of a football field -- in order to build a new interchange at the heavily congested intersection of routes 2 and 450. The SHA also would cut down about two acres of trees surrounding the wetlands.
State environmental consultants have studied the wetlands and found they are not particularly valuable, said Ed Stein, the SHA's assistant to the chief of engineering.
"At one time there may have been a stream there," Stein said Monday, "but it's been pretty much reduced to a drainage ditch. (Runoff from) the development on Hudson Street all drains into that little low area."
Though no one disagrees that something needs to be done about traffic at routes 2 and 450, members of the Weems Creek Conservancy and the Severn River Association, a coalition of 90 neighborhoods along the Severn River watershed, are taking issue with the state over the value of the wetlands.
Last Tuesday, environmentalists met with Winegrad and Stein to discuss altering the traffic project to save the trees and wetlands. On Friday, they are scheduled to walk the site with Winegrad, Stein and state environmentalists.
Winegrad, known as an advocate for the environment, said he'll decide whether to oppose disturbing the wetlands after he observes the site Friday. As he understands it now, he said, "It's just mainly storm water running through there. It's a vegetative ditch."
But even a vegetative ditch could have value by filtering out pollutants before they reach Weems Creek, environmentalists argue.
Stein said runoff will be channeled into The Capital's storm water management basin.
Flo Clarke, a member of the Weems Creek Waterfront Association and the Severn River Association, disputed the ditch description based on a recent exploration of the wetlands. Clarke said she found a ravine descending 50 to 60 feet to a small stream draining into Weems Creek.
She said she found "old, tall trees" and "signs of wildlife."
Severn River Association President Stuart Morris said the ravine is a small habitat for raccoons and other woodland animals.
The proposed interchange "seems to be a necessary road, but sometimes the only way the SHA listens to you is when you oppose them," he said. "We have lost so many areas of forest to the SHA, we want to make sure every effort is made to protect what is there."
State highway officials plan to start building the $20 million interchange next spring or summer, with completion two years from now, Stein said.